by Richard Conniff/Scientific American
A few years ago at a bar in Reno, graduate student John Zablocki was talking about his research on the rediscovery of lost species—those presumed to have gone extinct only to turn up again alive and well. “The Lord Howe Island stick insect,” someone down the bar remarked, recalling the widely reported 2001 rediscovery of that species on an island in Australia. Then, living his beer glass, he uttered the celebrated line from the 1993 movie Jurassic Park: “Life, uh, finds a way.”
And this is the tantalizing thing when a species thought to be lost comes back, in effect, from the dead. It hints at rebirth in an era otherwise dominated by headlines about climate change and mass extinction. Scientists even refer to these rediscovered organisms as “Lazarus species,” after the man raised from the dead by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
But finding lost species does not take a miracle, according to Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), a small Texas-based nonprofit. GWC is now launching an ambitious “Search for Lost Species” initiative to rediscover 1,200 species in 160 countries that have not been seen in at least 10 years. The first expeditions will launch this fall in pursuit of the 25 “most wanted” species, says GWC herpetologist Robin Moore, who is leading the effort.
Among the top 25: a pink-headed duck last seen in 1949 in India, a tree-climbing freshwater crab last observed in 1955 in the West African forests of Guinea and the world’s largest bee (with a wingspan of 2.5 inches) last sighted in 1981 in Indonesia. “For many of these forgotten species,” Moore says, “this is likely their last